Winter Birds at Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park

November 11, 2009

DSC02537Kah Tail Lagoon Nature Park, off Sims Way and Jefferson Transit Park and Ride, Port Townsend, E. Jefferson County, Washington state

Sunny days are hard to come by in the winter and so when the opportunity presents itself, I must oblige and get out!  Where can I go fast and explore as a naturalist: Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park of course.

I pack up my naturalist’s journal, camera and binocs and walk the trail from the parking lot of the Food Co-op and walk along the water.  Immediately I begin spotting birds out on the lake.  Most are out in the middle of the lake.  I can see some of them diving.  There is an occasional flock or two along the shore, though most don’t seem interested in me.  I am not carrying anything that looks like food.

Peering out over the water, I notice that the majority of the ducks are Mallards and Ruddy Ducks.  The Ruddy Ducks are in their winter plumage.  The males are easy to spot with their conspicuous white cheeks and their long tail, held up like a ski jump.

The male Mallards always strike me with their metallic green head and neck in contrast to the yellow bill.  They sure are “screaming” for the most particular female. 

Also found were an occasional Buffelhead.  They are actively foraging for food- diving and resurfacing within the minute in a new location. I think back to a recent beach hike, when nearly all I saw were Bufflehead.  They are in their winter range now.

I walk over to the smaller pond that feeds the main lagoon with salt water from a buried pipe.  Apparently this is where it is at.  Not sure what it is but I hope to find out.  The pond is pretty busy with Mallards and American Wigeons.  The wigeons are new to me so I can post-field ID them with my sketches I made in my journal.  The short bluish-white bill with a dark underside and tip are a ringer.  The individuals with the dark, iridescent green eye-patch are apparently breeding males.  According to my field guide books, they are in their winter range.  That is great news, so I hope to see them on my next walk through Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park!

After learning a little more about my neighbors in the lagoon, I can’t help but wonder when they started showing up in our area if they spend their time in other places.  Where are they when they are breeding?  How long does it take to fly here?  How often do the birds take breaks?  Do they eat along the way?  Questions for another time…

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Change at Anderson Lake

November 9, 2009

North end of Anderson Lake, Junction of Anderson trail and Lakeside trail, Anderson Lake State Park, west of Chimacum on Anderson Lake Rd., east Jefferson County, Washington.

As part of the last field trip for the October “People, Nature and Place” workshop, I assigned all the participants to conduct a longitudinal nature study.  We walked to the northern end of the lake where we could access a variety of zones by trail, starting at the shore and going back into the woods.  The LNS is a study that will take place over the next 12 months and will be an intensive observation of a one-acre area or “nature spot” near the home or in an accessible place.  Each visit will include recording base-line information and then answering specific questions for each month.

The nature study we started today (Sunday) was a practice run.  The additional question for this round was: observe and record signs of change.

In my 25 minutes I walked from the shore and then back into the woods.  The trees were predominately Red cedar.  Some of my basic observations were; 1) the trail is covered by numerous Big leaf maple leaves (oranges, yellows and reds) as the season changes, 2) some of the leaves are covered with black-speckled spots as they decompose, 3) the trail is really sodden with moisture as we change into winter climate (I pick-up some sandy, loamy soil and squeeze it with my finger tips), 4) a downed Red alder will contribute its minerals and nutrients as it changes form and enriches the soil, 5) lichens covering the alder will help decompose the tree, 6) mushrooms growing out of the leaf litter (Big leaf maple and cedar needles) are aiding decomposition (I do a quick sketch of the overall shape and how the gills attach to the stem of the mushroom), 7) a “nurse-log” in slowing being decomposed into the forest soil (it already has a full blanket of moss over it), 8) a Douglas fir stump shows evidence that this forest has been logged and was changed, 9) Salal bush leaves have been munched-on by insects (large oval and semi-circular chunks out of the margin and centers of the leaves) which fuels the insects’ growth and maturation.

A question that I can answer right now is the nature of these black speckles I notice on the leaves.  Are they fungal in nature?  Could they be something else like viruses?  I think back to botany days and remember terms like rusts and smuts.  I need to look that one up.  How long will it take these organisms to decompose a leaf of the size of Big leaf maple?  Answers for another day.

Upland vegetation growth on Hatcher Pass- Alaska

October 23, 2009

brian Ak 2009 004Glenn highway, Hatcher Pass, Talkeetna Mountains, Matanuska borough, north of Palmer, Alaska (definitely afield from the Olympic Peninsula!)
As we drive north from Palmer and away from Anchorage, the landscape is changing in many ways.  We are following the Little Susitna River to the top of its watershed.  It will eventually flow SW into the Cook Inlet.  The birch and alder eventually give way to large shrubs (seen from the window of car speeding along the highway).  Even in late October, it is pretty obvious that this terrain will see snow and lots of it (soon).  The obvious hints of snowmobiles and avalanches don’t hurt.brian Ak 2009 012 The lack of tall trees and other vegetation is something else.

As we drive up to Hatcher Pass at 3,886 ft. we also note some ponds perched along the river bed.  The water has a thin slick of ice in spots.  The margins of the pond are held by accumulations of brush and branches.  Several of the ponds have large piles or mounds of the same.  It appears that beavers have made this their home.  My guides and friends report that they have seen black bears, moose, wolverines and (unexpectedly) hikers along the slopes here too on past trips.

My curiosity in reading this landscape has me wondering what this landscape looks like outside of the warmer months.  Why are there very few trees?  Has there been logging, fires, avalanches, heavy snowpack, glaciers?  What are the abiotic (non-living factors) that are influencing the vegetation so?

Looking down the valley I notice the U-shape, characteristic of past glaciers advancing down the valley.  My guess is that the soil is still fairly poor in organics after the most recent glacial period and there hasn’t been much to seed this upper valley with trees.  That combined with long snow pack and likely windy conditions would make it very hard for trees.

Olympic Range uplift

October 18, 2009

DSC02360Hurricane Hill trail, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Clallam County, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

Yesterday was a great day to explore the geography of the high county and how climate affects sub-alpine plants.  The NW winter climate (hard rain) was giving us its best.  As part of the first “People, Nature, and Place” course I sponsored, a small group of us packed into vehicles and headed up to Hurricane Hill on the Hurricane Ridge south of Port Angeles, WA.

Our first stop was the lookout short of the first tunnel on the road up to the ridge.  From here we found great exposed geology (mostly underneath some patches of mosses and lichens) in the slope.  The rock was bulbous and uniformly black.  I recognize it as basalt, an igneous (born of fire) rock.  This is consistent with what I have been taught and studied- part of what folks call the Crescent Arch.  These “pillows” of rock were never given the chance to cool and form crystals or much geometric shape as they were underwater when they formed and met cold salt water immediately after formation.  Fascinating the think that they were once under a deep ocean!

As we drive up and gain elevation (to 5,240 ft), we also spot some columnar basalt (cooled in arm-size columns with multiple faces). The columns aren’t necessary standing upright- many tilting in interesting directions.

We pass a “river” of deep chocolate-red water.  It is obvious that the powers of erosion in this heavy rain were bringing some of that soil back to the place of origin and completing the cycle.  The sedimentary rocks that are part of this ridge are rich in oxides, hence the color.  I can only imagine how many fossilized marine creatures are being carried back to sea.

Geologists understand that the whole of the Olympic Peninsula was uplifted from the bottom of the sea and forced up on top of the continental plate (kind of like a the peanut butter on a graham cracker scraped another similar graham cracker).

The flowing stream of mud and water remind me that we are lucky to be hear long enough to witness this moment in geological time for a mountain range that is often called “ephemeral” or short-lived (it isn’t nearly as hard as other ranges such as the N. Cascades and will quickly wash away).

After lunch we hit the trail and soon find twisted and folded layers of sedimentary rock (formed by millions of years of accumulated sea creatures and sediments) that once pressed and compacted in the ocean were scraped up on land by eons of subduction (one plate diving under another).  We look closely at this great example of slate and notice the obvious difference in the color and thickness.  The layers that we found have been tilted to vertical stripes and sometimes folded back to make U’s and W’s.  Wow- what power (and slow too)!!

What causes the differences in color?  Does it have do with organic content (the critters at time in history), mineral content, climate effects, and volcanic events??  What was the rate of accumulation that allows for this rock to bend and fold and not fracture?

On the way home we are fascinated by more forces of nature that affect the tree growth- forming “krumholtzt”, “elfin-trees”, and “flag” trees.  Google that…

Tamanowas/Chimacum Rock

October 16, 2009

E. Jefferson County, Olympic Peninsula, WA 

Chimacum Rock (or Big Rock) is accessed off Anderson Lake road and currently sits on private property.  It is popularly known by rock climbers for its recreation opportunities.  The Jamestown S’Klallum tribe knows it for other reasons and considers it a culturally significant site.  It is known as Tamanowas Rock by them.

Upon approach, it juts into the sky like a cone-shaped beacon with a few trees growing on its top like a burst of hair.  Standing at the base and getting a better look, it is obvious that this rock has peculiar origin.  The color is dark-grey to black and speckled with pores and small black crystals.  These cues tell me that is likely to have had a birth in fire- an igneous rock.  There are large hollows (aka huecos) all along its face; likely left from gas bubbles eons ago.  The rock lies just off a large concave cliff face that constitutes a ridge on the eastern edge of Anderson Lake State park.

I would interpret that this rock, hundreds of feet tall was once part of this wall.  It has been a very long time since it separated, came tumbling down and to a rest.  The face of the wall has a 4-5 ft trench.  Likely, soil has accumulated from the top over many hundreds or thousands of years, but as the lip is overhanging,  never reached the foot of the cliff.

What is the complete story for the origin of this unique rock and ridge?  Does it have to do with geologic faults that run through the Chimacum valley?  What about its pre-European cultural history.  What place does it serve in cultural traditions for the Jamestown S’Klallam?

Carl Linnaeus

October 7, 2009

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)Some would call Carl Linnaeus the father of what is refered to as Natural History.  Some would point to the early indigenous peoples with their approach to knowing their world as the first “natural historians”.  I don’t care to argue the point but rather spend my time and energy to get outside and celebrate the world around me and get to know it better.  By doing so, I hope to be able understand it better and how I can live my life in more of an equilibrium.  I don’t have kids, so my motivation is for those of you who do.

Sunrise: 7:19 am, low tide of -1.28 ft at 12:12 am and again at 12:26 pm with 5.77 ft.  Sunset: 6:37 pm. 

At 3:05 pm:  57.1 F with light winds from my point of view off San Juan Ave and F St in Port Townsend, WA, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, USA.  The sky is showing bright with less than 10 % cloud cover (high wispy clouds).

Fall is approaching and the colors are beginning to show in the Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum).  If the wind stays light the leaves will hopefully linger on the trees longer.

The mornings are becoming more crisp and the clothes layers have come out of bins once more.

The apple trees in the yard are really drooping with the energy they have accumulated to help spread their seeds. I am happy to help.  I tug and two come off (one an eager volunteer).  I leave one on the ground for the deer.  What variety is this?  How many varieties are grown in WA state?  What shall I do with this apple and others like it?

The skin is smooth and glossy and free of blemishes.  I am secure in the thought that my neighbors have not applied any artificial chemicals.  The color is mostly pale green, yet red is present in patches spreading from the top, around the equator and below as well.  The taste bursts with the first bite of mostly sweet with a hint of sour.  It is crispy and holds shape nicely.   Maybe I will bake crisp.